The future of air travel is up in the air. No, really. We often use this expression to discuss something that is uncertain, but there are so many possibilities for air transportation, we can’t really know what will come in the next 20 to 40 years. What is, at least fairly certain, is we won’t be dashing through star systems in Star Wars style people carriers. What’s more likely is one or several of the following possibilities.
LockheedMartin’s Box Wing Jet seeks to reduce fuel consumption while maintaining a recognizable passenger jet design. By utilizing lighter-weight materials and taking design cues from the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, the team at Lockheed designed a looped wing configuration that increases the lift to drag ratio by 16%. The plane’s larger turbofans improve efficiency by approximately 22%. Combined with increases gained from the box wing configuration, the plane has the potential to be 50% more efficient, require half the approach, and reduce engine noise by 35 decibels over the average passenger jet of today.
MIT’sD8 “double bubble” configuration combines a few tweaks on current design to create a passenger jet that maximizes fuel efficiency as well as payload. The D8’s dual-aisle design doubles the jet’s passenger capacity and makes the fuselage wider (providing additional lift). To increase the jet’s fuel efficiency, the engines have been moved from the traditional under the wing position to the base of the tail. This forces the jet’s exhaust out behind the center line of the plane, minimizing drag. Combined, these things produce a theoretical 70% fuel savings. If all future testing goes well, we can expect to see D8s in the sky by 2035.
The“Supersonic Green Machine” by Lockheed Martin is an effort to bring supersonic passenger flight back – over land. One of the problems plaguing the Concorde supersonic jet was the inevitable sonic boomcreated as the jet reached Mach 1. As an object approaches the speed of sound, its sound waves cannot get out of the way of one another. The collision of sound creates the telltale boom at 761 mph, the speed of sound. The Green Machine’s inverted V engine configuration is designed to increase air flow, much the way a spoiler on a race car does, thus decreasing the sound and effect of the sonic boom. Of course, increased air flow will not only decrease the effects of the boom, but it will also increase fuel efficiency. The design is just one of Lockheed Martin’s visions of the future of aeronautics.
BONUS: NASA’s Puffin is a vision of personal air travel, taking the jet pack to the next level. The electric, tilt-rotor system similar to that of the V-22 Osprey, takes off like a helicopter and flies horizontally like a standard airplane, carrying one passenger in the prone position. It is capable of cruising at 140 mph and a max speed of nearly twice that with a range of around 50 miles. There is no word as to when we can expect to see a Puffin dealership, but when it happens, we’ll be there.